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On September 1, the CFPB issued new details on its first Tech Sprint, which will cover innovative approaches to adverse action e-disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB announced in September 2019 its intention to use Tech Sprints—which had been used by the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority seven times since 2016 and resulted in a pilot project on digital regulatory reporting—to encourage regulatory innovation and requested comments from stakeholders on the plan.
The adverse action e-disclosure Tech Sprint will be held October 5-9, 2020 and will ask participating teams to focus on three goals to improve the notices: accuracy, anti-discrimination, and education. More details on the event are available in the CFPB’s problem statement. A link to an application to participate can be found in the problem statement and will be accepted between September 1 through September 11.
Recently, the CFPB announced settlements (see here, here, and here) with three mortgage lenders for mailing consumers advertisements for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mortgages that allegedly contained misleading statements or lacked required disclosures. According to the Bureau, the lenders offer and provide VA guaranteed mortgage loans, and allegedly sent false, misleading, and inaccurate direct-mail advertisements to service members and veterans in violation of the CFPA, the Mortgage Acts and Practices – Advertising Rule (MAP Rule), and Regulation Z. Among other things, the Bureau alleges the advertisements (i) failed to include required disclosures; (ii) stated credit terms that the lenders were not actually prepared to offer; (iii) made “misrepresentations about the existence, nature, or amount of cash available to the consumer in connection with the mortgage credit product”; and (iv) gave the false impression the lenders were affiliated with the government. Two of the lenders also allegedly used the name of the consumer’s current lender in a misleading way, and misrepresented that consumers would receive specific escrow refund amounts if they refinanced their mortgages, even though the advertised amounts “were calculated using a methodology that had no bearing on the actual escrow refund amount,” and consumers were often required to fund new escrow accounts upon generating new loans.
In addition, one of the lender’s advertisements represented to consumers that they could “‘[s]kip two payments’ or ‘miss’ two payments by refinancing with the company,” but failed to disclose, among other things, that the skipped or missed payments would be added to the loan’s principal balance.
The consent orders (see here, here and here) impose bans on future advertising misrepresentations similar to those identified by the Bureau, require the lenders to use a compliance official to review mortgage advertisements for compliance with consumer protection laws, and require compliance with certain enhanced disclosure requirements. The Bureau further imposes civil penalties of $225,000, $50,000, and $230,000 respectively against the lenders.
The latest enforcement actions are part of the Bureau’s “sweep of investigations” related to deceptive VA-mortgage advertisements. In August and July, the Bureau issued consent orders against four other mortgage lenders for similar violations, covered by InfoBytes here and here.
On August 28, two payday loan trade groups (plaintiffs) filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in ongoing litigation challenging the CFPB’s 2017 final rule covering payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other installment loans (Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court granted the parties’ joint motion to lift the stay of litigation, which was on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert, holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau). In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Bureau ratified the Rule’s payments provisions and issued a final rule revoking the Rule’s underwriting provisions (covered by InfoBytes here).
The amended complaint requests the court set aside the Rule and the Bureau’s ratification of the rule as unconstitutional and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Specifically, the amended complaint argues, among other things, that the Bureau’s ratification is “legally insufficient to cure the constitutional defects in the 2017 Rule,” asserting the ratification of the payment provisions should have been subject to a formal rulemaking process, including a notice and comment period. Moreover, the amended complaint asserts that the payment provisions are “fundamentally at odds” with the Bureau’s lack of authority to create usury limits because they “improperly target installment loans with a rate higher than 36%.” Finally, the amended complaint argues that the Bureau “arbitrarily and capriciously denied” a petition from a lender seeking to exempt debit-card payments from the payment provisions of the rules.
On August 26 and 28, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered two final judgments (see here and here) against four of the defendants in an action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney alleging a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the complaint asserts the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments.
The finalized settlements suspend a total judgment of over $95 million due to the defendants’ inability to pay, and requires the two defendants who settled on August 26, to pay a total of $75,000 to Minnesota, North Carolina, and California, and $1 each to the CFPB, in civil money penalties, and the two defendants who settled on August 28, to pay a total of $15,000 to the respective states and $1 to the CFPB in civil money penalties. In addition to the monetary penalties, the defendants are required to relinquish certain assets and submit to certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements. All four defendants neither admit nor deny the allegations, as part of the settlements.
On August 31, the CFPB released a report on the early effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit outcomes. The report analyzed a “nationally representative sample of approximately five million de-identified credit records maintained by one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies,” and examined trends in delinquency rates, payment assistance, credit access, and account balance measures. According to the report, trends showed that there was an overall decrease in delinquency rates since the start of the pandemic among auto loans, first-lien mortgages, student loans, and credit cards; however, the Bureau emphasized that the analysis takes a deeper dive “into measuring how these outcomes differed based on consumer and geographic characteristics compared to earlier work.” Highlights from the report include: (i) new delinquencies fell between March and June of 2020; (ii) borrower assistance appeared to be concentrated in areas that were more severely affected by the pandemic, with sharp increases in the number of accounts reporting zero payment due despite a positive balance; (iii) financial institutions closed existing lines of credit and halted credit limit increases for open accounts primarily for borrowers with high credit scores or for inactive cards; and (iv) credit card balances decreased by roughly 10 percent between March and June, which, according to the report, is consistent with other data that shows a decline in consumer spending.
CFPB denies company’s petition to set aside CID, citing investigative authority broader than enforcement authority
On August 13, the CFPB denied a petition by a credit repair software company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in April. The CID requested information from the company “to determine whether providers of credit repair business software, companies offering credit repair that use this software, or associated persons, in connection with the marketing or sale of credit repair services, have: (1) requested or received prohibited payments from consumers in a manner that violates the Telemarketing Sales Rule [(TSR)]. . .; or (2) provided substantial assistance in such violations in a manner that violates [the CFPA or TSR].” The company petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the CID exceeds the Bureau’s jurisdiction and scope of authority because the agency lacks investigative and enforcement authority over companies that provide credit repair services and companies that provide customer relationship management software for such services. The company also argued that (i) the CID is invalid because the company does not engage in telemarketing, perform credit repair services, or market or sell credit repair services to consumers; (ii) the company is not a “covered person” or “service provider” under the CFPA; and (iii) the company is not required to respond to the CID because “it is clear that [the company] does not provide any assistance, let alone substantial assistance, to any covered person in violation of the CFPA.”
The Bureau rejected the company’s arguments, countering that its “authority to investigate is broader than its authority to enforce.” According to the Bureau, “[r]egardless of whether [the company] itself engages in telemarketing or accepts payments from consumers in a manner that violates the TSR, the Bureau has the authority to obtain information from [the company] that will help it assess whether others may have done so.” Furthermore, the Bureau stated that the CFPA grants it the authority to prohibit unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices committed by a “covered person” or a “service provider,” and “the authority over those who, knowingly or recklessly, provide substantial assistance to a covered person,” which include companies that provide credit repair services. “Whether a company that sells business software to credit repair firms does, in fact, substantially assist any violations committed by those firms depends upon the facts,” the Bureau explained.
On August 28, the CFPB announced a new external peer review process of its “important technical and scientific research” in order to ensure its quality. The Bureau noted it is following guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which encourages federal agencies to seek peer review of “‘influential scientific information’ and ‘highly influential scientific assessments,’” specific terms defined by OMB in the guidance. The Bureau notes that it will use the Academic Research Council (ARC)—a panel of outside researchers with expertise in consumer finance—to conduct the peer reviews of its research. The Bureau has a dedicated webpage where it will post the original report, its peer review request, the ARC’s report, and if necessary, a revised report addressing the ARC’s review.
The first report subject to peer review is the Bureau’s February report titled, “Disclosure of Time-Barred Debt and Revival: Findings from the CFPB’s Quantitative Disclosure Testing.” A copy of the report and the ARC’s review report are now available on the Bureau’s webpage.
On August 27, the CFPB issued a new analysis of the 2019 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data on mortgage lending transactions, which follows an initial release from the CFPB and the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council (FFIEC) earlier in June (covered by InfoBytes here). The newly released report groups the new and revised HMDA data points into seven major categories: (i) open-end and reverse mortgage flags; (ii) expanded or revised demographic information; (iii) property type; (iv) loan purpose and characteristics; (v) applicant/borrower characteristics and property characteristics; (vi) pricing outcomes and components; and (vii) miscellaneous data points. The report breaks down the data points in each category by providing a definition and basic reporting requirements, as well as a statistical overview of the reported information.
On August 25, the CFPB announced a Request for Information (RFI) on the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), consistent with the requirements of Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), which specifies that agencies should review certain rules within 10 years of their publication to consider the rules’ effect on small businesses. Specifically, the Bureau is seeking comments from stakeholders on the economic impact of the CARD Act on small entities and whether regulations should be adjusted to address those impacts. Additionally, the RFI seeks information, pursuant to section 502(a) of the CARD Act, related to the consumer credit card market. Among other things, the Bureau requests stakeholders comment on (i) the terms of credit card agreements; (ii) the effectiveness of credit card disclosures; (iii) the cost and availability of credit cards; and (iv) credit card product innovation.
Comments on the RFI will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On August 24, the FTC announced several Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) intended to clarify that five Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) rules promulgated by the FTC will now apply only to motor vehicle dealers. The NPRMs also propose non-substantive amendments to correspond to changes made to the FCRA by the Dodd-Frank Act, and will apply to the following rules:
- Address Discrepancy Rule. This rule requires users of consumer reports to implement policies and procedures for, among other things, handling notices of address discrepancy received from a nationwide consumer reporting agency (CRA) and furnishing an address for a consumer that a “user has reasonably confirmed as accurate to the CRA from whom it received the notice.” The proposed amendments narrow the scope of the rule to motor vehicle dealers excluded from CFPB jurisdiction.
- Affiliate Marketing Rule. This rule provides consumers the right to restrict a person from using certain information obtained from an affiliate to make solicitations to the consumer. While the proposed amendments narrow the scope of the rule to “motor vehicle dealers” excluded from CFPB jurisdiction, they retain the substantive provisions of the rule because they “addresses the relationship between covered motor vehicle dealers and their affiliates, which may not be motor vehicle dealers.”
- Furnisher Rule. Under this rule, furnishers are required to implement policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the consumer information they provide to a CRA. The amendments propose changes including narrowing the rule’s scope to entities set forth in Dodd-Frank “that are predominantly engaged in the sale and servicing of motor vehicles, excluding those dealers that directly extend credit to consumers and do not routinely assign the extensions of credit to an unaffiliated third party.”
- Prescreen Opt-Out Notice Rule. This rule outlines requirements for those who use consumer reports to make unsolicited credit or insurance offers to consumers. The proposed amendments will narrow the scope of the rule to cover only motor vehicle dealers. The model form is unchanged from the previous model notice and is identical to the model notice used by the CFPB.
- Risk-Based Pricing Rule. Under this rule persons that use information from a consumer report to offer less favorable terms are required to provide a risk-based pricing notice to consumers about the use of such data. Under the proposed amendments, only motor vehicle dealers will be required to comply.
The FTC seeks feedback on the effectiveness of the five rules, including (i) whether there exists a continuing need for each rule’s specific provisions; (ii) what benefits have been provided to consumers under each rule; and (iii) should modifications be made to each rule in order to benefit consumers and businesses or to account for changes in relevant technology or economic conditions.
Comments are due 75 days after the NPRMs are published in the Federal Register.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Transnational corruption: A chat with former U.S. federal prosecutors in New York" at Marval Live Talks
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate "Regional anti-corruption enforcement colloquium" at the Latin Lawyer GIR Interactive Anti-Corruption & Investigations
- APROVED Webcast: 20 for the ’20s: What the coming decade holds for MLO licensing
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "NMLS mortgage call report – Where’s NMLS 2.0?" at the QuestSoft Lending Compliance Conference
- Thomas A. Sporkin to discuss "Managing internal investigations and advanced government defense" at the Securities Enforcement Forum
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Mortgage servicing in a recession: Early intervention, loss mitigation and more" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute